Parish Life


It’s interesting to read this article from the 1940’s when it was easy to find and go to a local church that still practiced and preached the Catholic Religion of the Fathers. It’s not so simple, now. If we take our faith seriously, we must go to a parish where there is a reverent Mass and where the preaching is sound. The effort to get to one will not go unrewarded. And our parish life will then be a blessing…

by Emerson Hynes St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota

+J. H. Schlarman Bishop of Peoria President NCRLC

Sacramental Protection of the Family

(Notes from a talk by Emerson Hynes to the Rural Life Summer School, St. Bede College, June 25, 1945.)

Parish Life

Family life in Christ is a noble aim and one to which we cannot devote too much energy. Yet we know that the “true and indispensable” source of Christian life is Holy Mass, because obviously the family is not self-sufficient either economically or socially or spiritually.

We have not the time to explore all the possibilities, all the opportunities for leadership in helping families to work with other families in community life. Economic and social cooperation of families is a topic in itself. But a few words about the cooperation of families in religious life will be useful.

Holy Mother Church has built her structure wisely. The normal relationship of families is a part of that community called a parish. The parish is in many respects a “little Church,” a cell of the whole Church. Composed of families, usually in a geographic area, it is admirably suited to promote the spiritual growth of the members of those families.

The offering of the parish Mass is the central act of this community; and the priest, the father of the parish family, has the honor, right, and duty of offering that Mass, dispensing the sacraments, and instructing. Thus family life reaches its flowering in parish life.

How important that parish life is! How great the opportunity and how great the responsibility of the priest!

And it is a good thing for priests to know that the laity thank God for the great system of parishes that we have in the United States, where few families are so far removed that they cannot be active members of parishes; and that the laity appreciate their blessings in having priests, who serve them faithfully in this first and necessary function of the parish.

For a number of reasons, it is true that we Catholics do not make the best use of the means of worshipping and of growing spiritually. But can anyone in this whole nation complain that the means are not there at his disposal?

But no Catholic can ever be complacent. There is always the opportunity of intensifying the religious life of the families of the parish, of making them realize more fully the privilege of being a part of this cell of the Church.

We are all so human; and so the practices that have been traditional in the history of the Church are needed today as in the past. All of you undoubtedly have them. I need but mention a few.

There are, especially on Rogation days and Corpus Christi, processions in which the members of the parish join as a body to worship and petition.

There is the meaningful custom of visiting the cemetery, where the deceased members of the mystical body (but just as truly part of the living body) rest. There is the restoration of the true meaning and prayers of Halloween.

There is the beautiful practice of making each baptism of a new member of the Church and of the parish a real parish function. We lay people make a great fuss over baby showers and have all kinds of secular excitement over the birth of a baby. Could we not be helped to achieve even more enthusiasm for the birth (baptism) of a new member into the Church?

To make baptism a parish affair is to teach the unity of members of the mystical body. Not only the parents, but also the parish should rejoice.

The parish also has secondary purposes: to serve as a social and cultural center for the people who are united in this basic religious society. This, too, is a broad topic, and one from which we could all profit by exchanging ideas.

Complaints go to the two extremes: that the parish is “dead” and without any activities of this secondary nature; and the opposite, that there are so many societies and activities that the family which joined all they were exhorted to join would never have any time at home.

I suggest merely that on this point we keep one thing in mind. The parish should not simply be duplicating secular activities that are already well organized. Of course, that is the easiest procedure. The people like card parties, bowling, athletics, bingo, and what-not. I am not condemning them. But in most places secular agencies provide enough outlet for such recreational and social urges.

There is so little time, and the parish is so important that the busy pastor and his willing people should use the opportunity to higher ends. I mean that social, fraternal, and recreational devices should not be ends in themselves, nor should they be merely money making devices.

They should be used as a means to build a rural culture, a Christian rural culture. Thus they should lead to higher things. Endless playing of cards will not build any culture. Endless bowling is not going to develop the human personality. Cards may be used as a bait, but creative recreation (plays, recitations, music, folk dances, the ancient crafts and arts) should be our aim.

The secondary parish activities should be building personality and building culture, not merely providing parasitic and passive ways of spending time. Let Hollywood have the reputation for that.

I might add in passing that this is important, for unless a genuine rural culture is built in this country, rural America is doomed. Unless rural people have spiritual and cultural values, they will use their improved economic condition as a stepping stone to urban life. Unless rural children are trained to know and appreciate the special cultural values of the open country, they will not stay on the land.

I grant that most rural people think they must relax and be entertained. That is the job of leadership, to show them how more re-creating and more entertaining creative activity is. And incidentally it will build better parish unity and keep the parish numerically strong.

“Parents are often to blame for the rebellious spirit of their children, because they give little of themselves – of their time, interest, and practical love – and then complain that their children do not obey. Let your good example be a sufficient motive for your children’s obedience, even when you are obliged to ask them to do things that few other parents ask.” – Fr. Lovasik, The Catholic Family Handbook http://amzn.to/2opoz9Z (afflink)
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